Sales is a vital part of any freight organization — if you’re providing ocean, air, road and/or 3PL services, you’re going to need someone to sell all of it. Especially in the world of freight sales, having a team of great salespeople is the difference between making or missing revenue goals. At many freight sales organizations today, having a great sales team can be the difference between eating and going hungry.
Getting into freight sales can have it’s risks but also yields high rewards. There’s lots of demand for great salespeople; just not for people without passion or empathy for others, according to many freight folks we talk with.
What’s constantly debated is: “What is the difference between a regular freight salesperson and an exceptional one?” What qualities, skills, and tools do the latter use to be successful?
To find out, we asked a few of our favorite subscribers to First Freight CRM; junior and senior freight sales executives, managers, and representatives from leading freight forwarders around the world. What we got was an outpouring of great advice addressing everything from how to listen to a shipper, to the value of leveraging internal resources, to the importance of being dedicated, to constantly improving skills and knowledge. They all reflect a common theme: at the end of the day, freight sales should be about helping your customers, be they a lead or an established account.
Here’s how the best freight sales teams puts the “helpful sales philosophy” into action.
1) Form Real Relationships
Cecilia V., VP Business Development
“Be genuinely curious about your lead’s professional and personal life so you can form real relationships. Don’t ask questions just to figure out if you think they’ll be likely to ship with you. Ask questions so that you can truly understand what your shippers are dealing with and what they’ll need in order to be successful with your solution. If you are indeed able to help them with their goals and challenges, you’ll have built the trust required for them to buy and stay with you.”
Jay M., EVP Global Sales & Marketing, Top 10 Global Freight Sales Organization
“Treat a lead as if he or she will be your best customer. By adopting this philosophy, you force yourself to give all shippers the same level of consultation during the sales process and provide them with a solution that truly matches their needs and goals. Happy leads become happy customers (accounts) who may refer business to you within or even outside their organization. Down the road, they are also more likely to take you with them when they move companies. By treating everyone this way, you’ll not only find great clients, but also establish a wide network of trusted contacts over the years.”
Brian F., VP of Sales, Pharma, Top 10 Global Freight Sales Organization
“If you are at a larger forwarder, create cross-departmental relationships. In the long term, a lot of freight salespeople miss out on strategically setting up internal relationships with people in other departments at their organization. It’s likely that there are dozens of people in your organization who can help you achieve your personal and professional goals; at other station or in other regions, but easily reachable. Sometimes their help comes in the form of hopping on a sales call with you if their expertise could be helpful to one of your prospects. Other times it can come in the form of being your mentor for career conversations that broach topics beyond Sales. If you can balance your long-term relationships with short-term quotas, you’ll find that your success grows in both respects.”
2) Truly Believe in The Services You’re Selling
Sammy S., Director of Sales, Mid-Sized Freight Forwarder, Germany
“People can tell when you are saying something you really believe in versus something you don’t. Be confident about what you’re selling and talk to a prospect as if you were sitting down with your best friend face to face. Emotional involvement is still a very critical piece. If you aren’t excited and passionate, how can you expect your shipping prospects to be? Numbers and facts alone will not inspire a prospect to act unless they are emotionally invested in changing. The best freight salespeople know their products and services can help a willing customer reach their goals. A great salesperson is truly fulfilled when they can accomplish that.”
3) Be a Consultant, Not a Salesperson
Mark S., Independent Freight Forwarder, Hong Kong
“It’s much better for the shipper if the salesperson diagnoses a problem and works with them to solve it. When you’re just starting out as a salesperson, you are often tempted to go into a call with prospects eager to pitch your services, and then ask for the sale. Most of the time, the pitch does not resonate for some reason that the salesperson never uncovers. The prospect then gets turned off because the salesperson seems only interested in helping themselves, not helping them. It’s also not in the best interest of the salesperson as it causes a lot of “deal chasing.” Deal chasing leads to stressful nights because you don’t have any insight into why a prospect doesn’t bother answering questions or returning calls. How do you avoid this? Instead, learn to think like a consultant and seek to really understand your prospects’ goals and challenges. Once you learn to understand and diagnose the problems your prospects are facing, you can problem-solve together. The value of your product will be much more apparent to the prospect, sometimes without even a need for a pitch.”
Rik van M., Station Manager, Amsterdam
“It’s important to invest time at the beginning of the sales process to really understand the shipper’s business. Ask about the company’s objectives, goals, and challenges. The tendency is to want to speed through the “qualification” stages and get to what most people refer to as “selling” or presenting the solution. You need to resist that temptation. Sometimes, it makes sense to schedule an extra exploratory call if you don’t feel like you fully understand the prospect’s needs and the factors affecting his or her decision-making process. If you rush, the things you missed will inevitably come back in the form of objections after you’ve presented an incomplete and less-than-customized solution.”
4) Be a Good Listener
Danielle H., Senior Sales Manager
“Let the prospect do the talking. If you have trouble pressing ‘mute’ internally, then press the ‘mute’ button on the phone after asking your prospect a question. It will let them articulate their thoughts in full and can help you guide them toward their own conclusions. Initiate a dialogue with a prospect by asking him or her some open-ended questions that can’t simply be answered with a single word. Ask questions like, ‘Tell me more about what an ideal customer looks like for you,’ and then follow up with ‘Why’s that?’ Show them that you’ve listened to a long-winded answer by paraphrasing what they’ve said, and use this summary to transition into a relevant follow-up question. The trick is to ask questions on the call without making the conversation feel like an interrogation. Once you mastered that, you’re well on your way to properly determining whether your product or service can truly help the individual you’re speaking with.”
John S., VP Business Development, Shanghai Station
“Asking questions and listening carefully are incredibly important to being a successful freight or any kind of salesperson. One carefully worded question could help you uncover the needs and wants of a shipper way more effectively than what you think is a convincing pitch. Also, when listening, leave out affirmations like ‘aha’ and ‘yes.’ Affirmations like these distract and interrupt your prospect’s train-of-thought and show that you’re impatiently listening, just waiting for your turn to speak.”
5) Be a Curious Skeptic
Brian K., COO, Top Global Forwarder
“Be honestly curious and helpful. Ask ‘Why?’ A lot of qualification calls sound like a one-sided interrogation instead of a two-way dialog. Questioning with curiosity allows you to challenge a prospect’s assumptions without offending them.”
Frederick R., Country Manager
“To be most successful as a salesperson, you need to be skeptical about what your prospects are saying even if they’re saying what seems like all of the right things. Prospects will often tell you what they think you want to hear just to get to the part of the sales process where you talk — that’s when the pressure is off of them. Most prospects don’t want to reveal challenges or share the consequences of their challenges for a variety of reasons. They could be embarrassed, be afraid of repercussions of acknowledging issues, or may want to try to figure out the solution themselves. What do you do in these situations? Use storytelling and positioning statements to help prospects realize that you can help them with their challenges and that it’s worth the risk to reveal their struggles with you. You need to learn how to uncover these things even when prospects don’t want to share. Otherwise, you could be presenting the wrong solution or pitching unnecessarily, wasting everyone’s time and destroying your credibility as a helpful salesperson in the process.”
6) Leverage Your Resources
Alexandra C, Senior Vice-President, Sales & Tradelane Manager
“Everyone loves to help salespeople sell. Bring in leadership, technical resources, or someone in your prospect’s role from within your own organization to make your prospect feel like a VIP. Prospects will love having your coworkers on the call — they’ll trust your coworkers to bring a different perspective with a lower perceived bias. You can also use executive connections as a carrot to be traded for a meeting with one of their executives if you are stuck at the influencer level. And, pulling in resources is a fantastic way to network with other people in your company. If you do your diligence and the necessary legwork to make sure the connection is a successful call, you will build your own credibility quickly with your prospect and within your company.”
7) Be Open to Learning
Mark R., SVP of Global Ocean Sales
“Be coachable. Are you open to new methods and advice? Do you apply what you’ve learned to your sales pursuits? In interviews, I often role play a specific sales scenario with the candidate, ask them to self-assess, and then provide them with coaching. I then ask them to do it again. Many candidates fail this test because they aren’t great at self-assessing shortfalls and absorbing the takeaways I give them. Some just revert back to their way of doing it and miss the whole point of the exercise. Based on my experience of hiring and managing hundreds of salespeople, this lack of coachability is one of the biggest reasons I see salespeople fail. But, when salespeople embrace learning, critical feedback, and coaching from other people, they make immense progress on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. We hire lots of salespeople who have never sold before, yet they become some of our best salespeople because they are so coachable. Ask yourself if you’re coachable and how much of a difference it could make in your sales career if you were.”
Andrew Q, Director of Sales, Asia-Pacific, Medium-sized Forwarder
“Keep learning. If you can’t name a sales book that you’ve read and how you’ve applied it in a previous job, you’re doing a disservice to yourself, your shippers, and your profession. Actively seek out ways to learn from others outside of your day-to-day job: sales books, coaching, blogs, and peers can all be extremely valuable sources to learn from. Without a commitment to learning from others, you will not improve as a salesperson. Curious salespeople not only seek out learning from others, but they are also good at understanding and uncovering their prospects’ needs during the sales process. Curiosity increases earning potential deal-by-deal and year-by-year.”
Logistics sales is a great way to jumpstart your career, increase your earning potential, and grow as a person. You have the chance to wear many different hats in a fast-paced, high-stakes, high-impact role. You have to be an expert on every facet of transportation and other value-added services. You have to be a great listener, a consultant, a problem-solver, a challenger … all in a friendly, helpful manner. My advice to you? Don’t be age-ist, find a mentor, leverage your internal resources, always seek to learn new things and improve your sales skills, and most importantly: always strive to help — not sell.
Do this and you’ll go far.
What do you think makes a successful global logistics salesperson? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.